Monday, June 7, 2010

The Morning Reading: "Human reason is beautiful and invincible."

Tim Rutten put poetry on the Op-Ed page of the Los Angeles Times last Saturday when he penned "Death of a Poet," his appreciation of the late Russian poet, Andrei Voznesensky.


We spent several evenings together in a typically Russian haze of tobacco smoke and alcohol. As a 14-year-old prodigy, he had written to Boris Pasternak, who became his mentor, and Voznesensky described the Sunday afternoons they spent together walking and discussing verse. Once he recited for me a poem, "Second Dedication," from 1963. It begins: "Beneath the booming bells, / Moscow is seething like a brew" and ends "My word condemns you, / may shame be yours, / shame / and / damnation too!" I responded with a poem Archibald MacLeish wrote about McCarthyism, and he had me recite the opening over so he could copy it down: "God help that country where informers thrive / Where slander flourishes and lies contrive."

To read the complete essay, click here.

Rutten ends the essay by quoting from a Czeslaw Milosz poem - here is that poem in its entirety:


Human reason is beautiful and invincible.
No bars, no barbed wire, no pulping of books,
No sentence of banishment can prevail against it.
It establishes the universal ideas in language,
And guides our hand so we write Truth and Justice
With capital letters, lie and oppression with small.
It puts what should be above things as they are,
Is an enemy of despair and a friend of hope.
It does not know Jew from Greek or slave from master,
Giving us the estate of the world to manage.
It saves austere and transparent phrases
From the filthy discord of tortured words.
It says that everything is new under the sun,
Opens the congealed fist of the past.
Beautiful and very young are Philo-Sophia
And poetry, her ally in the service of the good.
As late as yesterday Nature celebrated their birth,
The news was brought to the mountains by a unicorn and an echo.
Their friendship will be glorious, their time has no limit.
Their enemies have delivered themselves to destruction.

Berkeley, 1968


(photo: Allen Ginsberg with Andrei Voznesensky)

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